My Solo Europe Trip – Part 2 – Loving London

Read Part 1 here if you haven’t already!

The night after my Stonehenge and Bath trip, I made my way to West End to see my first Broadway show in London – Aladdin! I’m a huge theatre/musical nerd and I wanted to make the most of my time in London by seeing as many shows as I could. I’d only seen a handful of Broadway musicals while in the States (Wicked, Lion King, Legally Blonde) and I was dying to see some more.

My seats for Aladdin were pretty good – center stage on the second floor balcony. Unfortunately, I sat in front of a huge group of rowdy middle schoolers who kept talking and kicking my chair. I had to turn around and give them the stink eye more than once. I really hate being disrupted when I go to the theatre. I knew I was in trouble before the lights went down when their teacher yelled at them and told them she didn’t want to get in trouble for their bad behavior. Sheesh, tell them before they leave the school how to behave, not as we are waiting for the show to start.

Anyway, Aladdin was magical. I loved the special effects for the show. Especially the magic carpet scene, but I won’t give anything away! After the show, I hastily made my way back to Jenni’s house because I had another early start and an important day ahead of me.

The next morning, I had tickets to go INSIDE Buckingham Palace. My ticket had a time on it and I figured they’d be extremely strict about promptness, so I was worried that the Tube would make me late. I had Jenni call me another Uber and it was really expensive and didn’t make me any earlier than I would have been, so I regretted it immensely. I found the ticket office and waited nervously in line as I watched the ticking clock.

Fortunately, they didn’t give that much notice to the time stamp and all I had to do was show them my email confirmation to get my tickets. Then I went around to the visitor entrance and they let me in right away. I got a set of headphones and an audio guide that had a map, pictures of what I’d see, and lots of information. I was mentally kicking myself for the money I spent on the Uber because I was late and no one cared, but I was also brimming with excitement as I stepped inside one of the most exclusive buildings I’ve ever been in.

Every summer when the Queen is away, Buckingham Palace is open to the public. Visitors can walk through the rooms of the palace to see where ceremonies and dinners are held, but mostly to see the enormous art collection that includes works by Vermeer, my favorite painter. This year, the Prince of Wales curated a section in the exhibit dedicated to art not only from famous painters but by students.

I exited outside into the garden area and then walked back around to the front entrance just as the parade started. Guards on silky black horses pranced through the streets and tourists mobbed together to fill the spaces in between. I actually ran into the Girl Scout group from Canada who I’d seen the day before on my bus tour! Although, to be fair, I knew they’d be there that day as well.

Once the parade was finished, the streets were opened back up and I rushed to a central location in front of the palace to get a selfie. I saw another solo traveler and offered to take his picture if he took mine. I guessed from his accent that he was Irish and told him I’d been to Ireland before and he was surprised.

 

Some of my favorite memories of my trip are these little moments when I met random people to ask them to take my picture because I always came away with a little more faith in people and more hope for the world.

Around lunchtime, I was starving and ready for a pizza, but I had a lot of walking to do and the grounds outside the palace are so beautiful that I ended up strolling for a while taking pictures. Also, I was a little lost. I didn’t have a SIM card or any roaming data, and my whole trip was based around me using free Wi-Fi, so whenever I could, I downloaded offline maps and used those to get around. However, I still got turned around in huge places, and my stomach just wanted pizza. Nothing else would do.

I wandered in a direction for a while, finally coming out into a main business area and I saw people in suits carrying pizza boxes so I knew I’d find my lunch sooner or later. I came upon a Pizza Express, a chain I’d seen a lot. I got a table for one, found a bathroom, and ordered a Fiorentina (spinach and olives apparently) and a Sprite. Maybe it was because I hadn’t had a Sprite in a while or because I was extremely thirsty after walking around all morning, but that Sprite was the best one I’d ever had in my life. Later I told Jenni that Sprite in England tastes better and she concurred.

Unfortunately for me, I was alone and had to eat the gigantic pizza all by myself. The other customers all seemed to order whole pizzas for themselves, too, but I’m a very light eater and had no idea how to finish, so I left the crust and mostly ate everything. I was mostly there to rest my feet and get some wi-fi, which they thankfully had.

Next up, I went to Westminster Abbey, where many an important person is buried. This was one of the only things I didn’t book in advance, so I had to wait in an extremely long line (about an hour) in the hot sun with no wi-fi and no idea if I was in the right line or not. I finally asked someone and confirmed that we were, in fact, in line to buy tickets at the door, so that was a relief. I also ran into another group of Canadians from my bus tour!

Finally, I got my tickets and went inside the massive church where I was given another audio guide. I was also parched again, and stupidly had not brought water with me, so I asked one of the staff members for some water and he showed me where a pitcher and some cups were. I got on his good side when I walked in because a Chinese tourist started taking pictures, even though there were about a hundred signs saying, “NO PICTURES!” so I told her to stop and she sighed and said, “Okay,” as if she already knew she shouldn’t have been taking any. The staff guy thanked me because I guess I basically did his job. I’m such a rule abider.

Westminster was really fascinating because so many royals and famous people had tombs there, some with whole wings to themselves. To name a few, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, and Elizabeth I are there. Also, they have a lot of memorials for people who aren’t actually buried there but have influenced England and its history. Poet’s Corner is a section mostly for memorials for people like Jane Austen, William Blake, Martin Luther King Jr., Shakespeare, Jenny Lind (yes, the one from The Greatest Showman), the Bronte sisters, etc.

I was able to take pictures outside the main section, and a lot of the architecture reminded me of Harry Potter. I left the grounds and found an ice cream stand and got me a cone. They stuck a piece of chocolate in it and I was delighted, but apparently Jenni said that’s normal and they are called 99 flakes. Either way, it was delicious and I had been thirsty again.

I was disappointed to realize that Big Ben was covered up for construction and likely won’t ring again or be uncovered until 2020?! But I strolled past Brexit protesters along the Thames to the British Museum and spent about 45 minutes in there before they shooed me out (closing time was at 5:45pm that day, and I hadn’t checked my guide book before going in). I used my free Rick Steves’ audio guide to the museum and found all the main things (except for some sections that were missing or under construction – theme of my trip).

I found the Rosetta Stone, fascinating to me because I love languages and the idea that no one could translate ancient Egyptian before finding a stone with markings on it is amazing to me. Then I saw tons of Egyptian mummies, artifacts, statues, etc. before walking through the Greek pottery and Assyrian gates. The British Museum (thankfully free, as all the other museums in London) is beautiful inside and out, with its glass dome and columns.

If you can believe it, I still wasn’t tired, so I made my way back to West End and waited for Jenni in Waterstones. I had just picked up a book and was beginning to read the first page when the fire alarm went off. Everyone was ushered outside but I was still able to use their wi-fi and tell Jenni I was waiting for her. There must have been a real fire because by the time she arrived, they still weren’t letting people back inside the bookstore.

We went to Nando’s for dinner, since I’d heard so much about it but had never eaten there. We ordered chicken and I got a huge cob of corn (corn in Korea is waxy and gross and every time I go out of the country I have to get a corn on the cob). Then we moseyed on over to the theatre where we would see Matilda. To our horror, the show had already started and I’d written the wrong time down on my itinerary, thinking it started at the same time as Aladdin and the shows I had coming up that week – which was 7:30pm. The show actually started at 7:00pm and we were about 20 minutes late.

We snuck in and found our seats and still had a great time seeing the show. During intermission we gabbed about how it differed from the movie and book and how great the actors were. Matilda is now in Seoul, being performed in Korean, so I’m tempted to go again here in Korea.

The next morning Jenni and I went to Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. I’m a huge Shakespeare nerd (the first big role I had in high school theatre, my character tells her parents she got the lead in Romeo and Juliet and spends the whole play lying to them until the find out that she’s actually a manservant with one line) and I was dying to see Shakespeare’s house and the cute little town of Stratford-upon-Avon.

However, Jenni and I didn’t plan the day very well and it took us a while to find train tickets and we rushed onto the train with little time to spare. We got off the train and found a cute pub called Pen & Parchment and I had my first ale pie. After a delicious lunch and tea, we found a town map and made our way to Shakespeare’s house.

We didn’t have much time to linger because we had something else planned that day, but we trekked across town to the church where Shakespeare is buried.

On the town map, it seemed like we could get back to the train station by either walking back the way we came or by going down another street through a residential area. The latter looked shorter, so we chose that. After walking a good ways, we realized that we were still far from the station and we were running out of time to get to our next destination. We called a taxi and he took us to Warwick Castle.

We both had never been, but we were excited to see the jousting and knight events they had in the summer. However, when we got there, we realized the place was almost deserted and everyone there had kids. The activities were all pretty much done for the day (at only 4:30pm!) and the jousting had just finished. We sat in the grass and watched as a real catapult was fired, which was pretty cool, but then the place started to clear out. It was cool to see a real castle, but the early closing time and the kiddy activities disappointed us, especially after we made the trip and paid for a taxi. Also, the entrance fee was pretty steep for what we got.

Warwick was a cute town in itself, but there was not much to do and basically no people around. We wandered around in search of some cream tea, but all the tea places were closed. We resigned ourselves to just getting the next train back to London, but we met a uni student on the train and chatted with her for a while, so that was nice. And anyway, the main event for Jenni and I was what we had planned for the next day.

(Read Part 3 here)

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